Patience is a commonly sought-after virtue among parents. Children are exasperating and can quickly extinguish any intentions you had of being patient that day. Some people may think patience is not part of their personality, but it is in fact a skill, something that can be practiced and improved. It takes a long time, and the progress is slow and steady, but don’t give up on yourself or get discouraged. Just know that the more you work at it the easier it will get. Do the hard work in the beginning, and it will pay off in the long run. If you’re having a rough day just think you’re laying the ground work for a better future. Here are some ideas and suggestions to help you keep your cool.
*Count how long it takes. This is a technique I developed around the time my toddler wanted to put on her own shoes (“I do it myself!”). It seemed to take forever, and it’s SO boring just standing there waiting for them to do something that I could do in a jiffy. And actually it’s the standing there part that takes the most patience. Even if I completed the task in the same amount of time, it would feel better because at least I was doing something. So, I decided to start counting to see how long it actually takes her to put on her shoes, or complete whatever task she insisted on doing herself. If nothing else, it gives you something to do while you stand there waiting! Guess how long . . . about 30 seconds! I rarely got to 30 before she was done. I decided I can wait 30 seconds for her to have her way, learn independence, and have my approval for a task completed. It’s important for children to do things on their own, of course, and this technique helped me get through those tiresome moments.
*Take it down a notch. When I was in training as a social worker I learned about de-escalating tense situations. When people are angry or in an argument tensions can get high, and if one person starts yelling or getting physical, the others will follow or even go one step more. One of the techniques to de-escalation is speaking calmly and slowly. Others will be influenced by your speech volume and pattern, and everything will start to calm down. This is an excellent way to stay patient with frustrating children.
When you feel yourself getting worked up, think “take it down a notch.” Visualize a peg being taken out of a high hole and moved down to a lower one. Slow down your actions, lower your voice. Pretend you’ve been given a sedative, and everything is slowing down. This gives you time to think before you speak and will help you avoid doing anything you will regret. Sometimes you have to “act” like you don’t care as much as you do (about the dirt tracked on the carpet, or the hit to the sister, or the tantrum occurring before you) because caring will just make you mad, and there’s no benefit to that. What would someone who didn’t care look like and act like? Think about that and be like that, just for the time being. You can decide how you’re going to deal with the problem behavior later, when you are calmer. When you’re getting angry and upset all your blood rushes to your heart and limbs (fight or flight mode) so it’s not the time to problem solve or react with a punishment. Just take it down a notch.
*Visualize your body melting. This is related to the above technique, but a different visualization. For a few seconds try to relax your muscles – starting with your head and face, down through your shoulders and arms, down your legs, finally to your feet. Feel yourself getting calmer. Try to let go of the anxiety that is building in your core. It’s not helping anything! It’s not productive. Take a deep breath, maybe close your eyes if that helps, and picture your body melting. Again, realize that you’ve just got to get through this situation without doing or saying anything you regret, and then you can deal with the problem behavior when you are calmer. You will deal with the behavior by reviewing the other principles in this blog: assess the situation to see if you are expecting too much, if the environment is setting him up for success, if you are complimenting the desired behavior, if you’re spending enough quality time with him, and make a plan for what behavior is expected and what you’re going to do if that doesn’t happen. When you have a plan in place (and a general parenting philosophy) there is less reason to get upset. Yes, it’s frustrating that he is misbehaving (AGAIN!) but you know what to do about it.
*It’s better to forget and smile than remember and hurt. I kind of hate this saying, because it’s so true. I want to remember; I want to tell everyone how bad my child is and how she makes me suffer! I want my husband to know how hard staying home is, so I’m going to hold on to the anger and the hurt until he gets home! But who is that helping? No one. It’s only hurting myself. I’m the one who carries around that dark baggage all day (or week or year!). For the little things, it’s better to get over them quickly. I had this saying taped up on my wall for over a year. It’s a hard habit to break, but just let the happiness in! Move on! Now we’re in the next moment, and there’s a chance the child will behave, and you’ll have a great interaction. Forgive her and smile!
*“That’s just how kids are.” Another phrase to repeat or hang on your wall! I have to tell myself this one all the time. Sometimes children are SO exasperating, SO frustrating that you are sure this can’t be normal! I used to always think to myself, “Either there is something wrong with her or there is something wrong with me!” I actually made an appointment with the pediatrician when my oldest was about 6. I had had it. I just felt like nothing I was doing was working, and I was getting so angry and frustrated. I started to wonder if there was in fact something wrong. He was so kind and patient with me. He started out by going through a long checklist of behavior problems, and to almost all of them I said no, she doesn’t have or do that. It was a real eye-opener to me. There are a lot worse problems out there than what I was dealing with! In the end, he said, “I feel like I could be talking to my wife – she has the same worries and concerns – but your child is absolutely normal.” As you can imagine, I was about in tears! It was so relieving, but also a little scary. You mean, that’s just how kids are?! Who came up with this idea?! Who ever thought that we, weak, flawed parents could deal with this?! Sometimes I turn comedian and say to myself, “Have you heard what they say about parenting? It’s hard – yeah, that’s what people say, so I guess I must be parenting!” Everyone knows parenting is hard, but it’s so very, very hard when you are the one doing it! But you can take comfort in the fact that everyone is in the same boat. That’s just how kids are – pestering, inquisitive, non-stop talkative, stubborn, resistant to sleep, picky eaters, bad friends, at times violent, impatient, and without manners! But, knowing this truth can help us be more patient. Understanding what is reasonable to expect and what isn’t can help us set up the situation for success – for both us and our children!
*Now is not forever. This follows nicely after “that’s just how kids are” because here’s another truth about children: They will change! They will grow! They will learn (eventually)! The saying ‘now is not forever’ is true in many parts of our lives; our problems, feelings, relationships, even health issues ebb and flow. But it’s especially true with parenting because our children are getting older every day. They are maturing and developing greater capacities to modulate their emotions and use their words. They are becoming more independent and reliable (don’t expect too much too fast though!). Just repeat this mantra over and over, and imagine the day when you will miss the messes and the noise.
*Don’t lose your cool. I know this is obvious, and you are thinking – if I could do this I would be a patient person! But I want to say this to remind you that it’s not worth it. It feels good for a moment to yell and get really angry and maybe even spank, but it does not have any positive benefits. It’s easy to give in to speaking harshly and to negativity. I’m sure you’re like me and have thought of saying some terrible things (and some hilarious, sarcastic remarks, too!) but you must control your words and not speak them. To say mean and harsh things to children is to show that you have as little control over your actions as they do. It does not show the example you want to be of controlling words and actions, even in times of strong emotion. Isn’t that what we ask of them all the time?! When you lose it with a child, her behavior will worsen, not improve. She will use those same words and tones with her siblings. It’s just a negative cycle. It is so, so, so hard to control your tongue in these super angry situations, but you must keep trying.
If you fail, forgive yourself quickly and move on! You can apologize to your child, if appropriate. You could say, “Mommy felt very angry and said some unkind things. We are supposed to use our calm words, even when we’re angry, and mommy is going to try to do better in the future.” It’s not going to be the end of the world, just review the principles in this post and start again tomorrow!